Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] Thursday seeking to force Hawaii to recognize same-sex civil unions [JURIST news archive] that offer the same rights as marriage. The complaint, filed on behalf of six same-sex couples, was in response to the veto of legislation [JURIST report] earlier this month by Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle (R) [official website] that would have created same-sex civil unions. The lawsuit, filed in the First Circuit Court of Hawaii [official website], argues that, by failing to provide same-sex couples with the same rights and benefits available to opposite-sex couples, the state is violating the same-sex couples' right to equal protection, due process and privacy under the Hawaii Constitution [text]. The plaintiffs allege that, by providing only reciprocal beneficiary status, a legal relationship offering limited benefits to same-sex couples, the state is impermissibly denying same-sex couples' right to equal protection by giving their relationship "inferior legal status" and providing an "insufficient and defective safety net for their families." Additionally, the complaint argues that the lack of equal status interferes with the plaintiffs' rights to private family life and would survive no level of scrutiny because it reflects "moral disapproval and antipathy toward lesbians and gay men serv[ing] no legitimate government interest." Explaining the harm caused by these constitutional violations, the complaint argues:
The State's relegation of same-sex couples to the inadequate status of reciprocal beneficiaries subjects the Plaintiff couples to legal vulnerability and related stress, while depriving them of the dignity and legitimacy of a legal status that, while still unequal to marriage, would at least recognize their equal entitlement to the same rights, benefits and obligations as are provided to different-sex couples who marry. The State's family relationship scheme ... sends a clear and purposeful message that the State views lesbian and gay people as secondclass citizens who are undeserving of the legal sanction, protections and support that heterosexual people and their families enjoy.The lawsuit stops short of seeking recognition of same-sex marriage, noting that the state legislature [official website] has the constitutional authority to define marriage under a 1998 amendment passed following a 1993 Hawaii Supreme Court decision [text] requiring the state to show a compelling reason to deny same-sex marriage.
The ACLU first indicated it would be filing the lawsuit [press release] earlier this month shortly after Lingle's veto. Last week, the ACLU filed a lawsuit seeking to force Montana [JURIST report] to provide legal status to same-sex relationships. The lawsuit seeks declaratory judgment that the state must provide a legal status to same-sex couples that confers the same rights and obligations as marriage under the equal protection, due process, privacy and dignity under provisions of the Montana Constitution [text]. Several jurisdictions in the US have legalized same-sex marriage or recognized same-sex civil unions. Same-sex civil unions that confer the same rights as marriage are currently recognized in Washington, New Jersey, Oregon and Nevada [JURIST reports]. In March, DC legalized same-sex marriage, joining Vermont, New Hampshire, Iowa, Connecticut and Massachusetts [JURIST reports].